Tonight I’ll be in Boston for a discussion about race, business, and economic empowerment. Dr. King’s words are in my heart as I think about the work Leora and Justin, along with the rest of the BREAD Boston team, are doing.

“Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.”

Those were the opening statements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech on April 3rd, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee the night before he was assassinated. His message included remarks about nonviolence and peaceful protests, but the central thrust of his message was the Memphis sanitation strike.

“The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers.”

Today, blacks and whites universally revere Dr. King as one of the most significant public figures of the century, but in 1966, Dr. King’s unfavorability among white Americans was 72%. And it was his message of economic empowerment that made him such a threat to the establishment.

“Go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy – what is the other bread? Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain.”

The 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott wielded a devastating blow to the system of segregation in Alabama on June 13, 1956 when the District Court ruled that the segregation enforced on the Montgomery motor buses was unconstitutional. This was the first large-scale protest against discrimination in the United States, and in the wake of this action emerged a charismatic and revolutionary young pastor by the name of Martin (born Michael King) Luther King Jr.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

“Tailoring Everything”

So says the sign on an alteration shop in my neighborhood. The English isn’t perfect, but that message, taped to the window and costing exactly one sheet of computer paper, is most definitely good enough.

When I first launched my magazine, I fretted over design perfection before reaching out to sponsors. I wasted precious time; sponsors weren’t looking for perfection. The site still needs a redesign two years later, but that didn’t stop me from closing August.

Conversely, I once gave a contributor full access to the site without restricting his ability to publish before the submission was edited and reviewed. That workflow and resulting article wasn’t good enough.

Both of these were valuable lessons, and having a framework for evaluating what is and isn’t good enough frees up cognitive resources to focus on higher order challenges.

If you’ve ever copy and pasted text from Google Docs into Gmail and hit ‘send’ before adjusting the text size, you probably noticed that the resulting text IS A TINY BIT LARGER than it should be. This is because the default font size in Google Docs is 11, whereas Gmail is set to 9.5.

I’ve got a geeky keyboard shortcut to strip the formatting (including text size) from the text I copy between applications—the technical term is text sanitization. It solves the problem for me, but I needed a solution for my editor who has precisely no interest in replicating my setup.

The steps below show you how to set the Google Docs default font size to perfectly match Gmail, so you can compose and edit in the former and paste in the latter seamlessly. These instructions assume you’re that using the default settings for both products.

Step one: [Gmail] Open up an email you’ve sent.

Step two: [Gmail] Copy a word to your clipboard. On Mac, you can double-click on a word to highlight it and CMD + C to copy it. We’re doing this because Google Docs won’t let you manually set the font size to 9.5, which Gmail uses.

Step three: [Google Docs] Paste your copied text into a new document and highlight the pasted text. If you don’t see Arial 9.5 in the formatting bar at the top, you’ll need to start over.

Step four: [Google Docs] Format > Paragraph styles > Normal Text > Update “Normal text” to match. This updates the settings for the current document, but there’s one more step remaining to apply these settings to future documents.

Step five: [Google Docs] Format > Paragraph styles > Options > Save as my default styles.

To make sure you’ve done it correctly, open up a new Google Doc to verify that Arial and 9.5 are set. Now you can copy and paste from Google Docs with abandon.

Nice work.

At the height of my social media addiction, I regularly updated my Twitter bio with vanishingly trivial tweaks. I obsessed over my professional bios as if they represented my one shot at telling my story to the world.

The real issue was that I didn’t believe in myself. I felt impostor syndrome despite my accomplishments, and I tried to fix this by optimizing minutiae. Look at how amazing I am! Can anyone see me…?

The real work was getting alone with myself and to the root of the issue. I didn’t need a better bio, I needed a better story to tell myself about myself.

My most talented colleagues spend little time advertising how great they are, they’re instead getting on with the business of living their best lives. Their websites are outdated, they have a mountain of unprocessed LinkedIn requests, and they are completely unfazed.

Of course we’re brilliant and accomplished and capable. But if that’s not how we feel inside, no amount of window dressing will fix it.

Many of us have goals that are comprised of small steps. Writing a book, starting a business, losing those last ten pounds…

It’s not surprising that the attainment of our goals remains elusive when we avoid the requisite action steps, but the danger of inaction carries an additional risk: the internal narrative we form about the kinds of people we are.

When we put pen to paper every day, we see ourselves as the kind of people who write. When we get our daily six miles in, we see ourselves as runners.

How we prioritize our priorities matters, too.

Meditating shortly after rolling out of bed in the morning is different from meditating at the end of the day, as we’re falling asleep. The quality of the activity suffers, we’re not proud of our commitment, and the next thing you know…

Conversely, the cognitive and emotional benefit of knocking out our daily habits before we begin our workday has the power to transform our days, our careers, and our lives.

One tactic we can use to accelerate new habit formation is setting tiny daily goals. There are no rules against writing one paragraph, doing one push-up, or walking one block. It’s infinitely easier to keep going once we’ve started.

On the topic of “diversity and inclusion” in tech, many companies are understandably intimidated by the challenges presented and would prefer to hire a few “underrepresented minorities” (see? we’re diverse!), and put the topic behind them.

Not so fast my dear Diversity Councils.

In speeding past the uncomfortable conversations, we in fact do our colleagues and organizations a great disservice. As much as we want to sprint ahead to embodying a “post-racial” society, the paradoxical path for many companies is to slow down and have a long overdue conversation with existing employees about what the organization actually stands for and how diversity slogans translate into action.

The benefit of embracing the existing diversity (of thought, age, politics, management style…) is that the humanity of the folks already present isn’t overlooked. Few companies feel comfortable admitting the fact that the demographic feeling a lot of guilt, anxiety, stress, pressure, and confusion around diversity dialogue is white males.

The irony of someone who holds a historically marginalized identity advocating for white males is not lost on me, but I’d like to invite us all to consider that cultivating allies in—and understanding the perspective of—white males is precisely what’s needed in order to drive the issue forward.

This is one of the reasons that Silicon Valley is still functionally segregated. Many of the gatekeepers are subverting the system because they’re not on board with this “diversity” business. Top-down directives rankle employees of all stripes, and no one likes feeling coerced into action. This is especially true regarding complex topics like race and identity in America, which few workplaces are prepared to discuss.

I earned a degree in Information Technology about a decade ago, and I’m eternally grateful for this education. This has given me is the ability to understand how complex systems work, from software to the body to politics.

Let’s use a practical example that affects millions of people every day: the role of privacy policies on the iPhone. If you have Location Services enabled on the Camera app, your location will be embedded in the metadata of the photo.

This means that anyone who obtains a copy of the image can, with disturbing accuracy and ease, determine where the photo was taken. This isn’t just true of Apple products, it applies to most modern devices that take photos. To disable this delightful feature on iOS10, navigate to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera and set it to Never.

Now back to my boudoir photo shoot.

Scared and selfish

01/11/2017

The reason I talk a lot about fear is because it’s like a cancer: a silent, effective, and devastating killer. Changing our relationship to fear and using it as a compass is empowering, but this only comes from leaning into the fear rather than away from it.

If you’re trying to put a new Thing into the world and your job is to sell people on this idea, fear can manifest in the form of the impostor syndrome. This preoccupation can make it hard to show up fully in the moment, and what’s not obvious is how much of a lie these feelings are.

The truth is that your art is a generous gift to the world. And the organizations you’re looking to influence employ at least one person whose job (and pleasure) it is to say yes to you.

This begs the following questions:

  • What makes your buyer’s life easier?
  • How does their boss measure success?
  • What joy might it bring them to work with you in bringing something into fruition?

When we fail to grapple our fear, we rob the world of our brilliance, and we rob ourselves of the reminder that we’re the kind of people who put brilliant things into the world. Shining brightly takes practice and time, and you’re probably closer than you think.

Pick up the phone

01/10/2017

Really Smart People Who Spent a Lifetime in School™ generally agree that between 60 – 90% of communication is nonverbal (facial expressions, gestures, posture, tone, throwing things). Despite this, many of us default to sending email, Slack messages, and texts about deeply consequential and complicated topics.

When I have time to craft and edit messages that are empathetic and written with the recipient’s perspective in mind (the basis of all effective communication), I’m generally pleased with the results. But most times—and I suspect this is true for most of you—I’m distractedly powering through a long list of tasks and not crafting the kinds of thoughtful messages I’d be happy to receive.

As a general matter, I suggest a phone call when discussing anything of consequence. Communication with other primates is really hard, and in my work as a facilitator I often referee conversations between humans sitting at the same table who are either talking past each other, or agreeing without realizing it. Emotive text messages just won’t do, beloved.

I regularly witness relationships disintegrate over text message miscommunications and email tone misunderstandings. To increase the chances that we won’t die alone and confused, pick up the phone. Send a text or email if you must, but include a request to discuss on a call or in person.

I had a call yesterday with a friend who thought I hated his guts based on my email to him last week. Not only did we clarify the misunderstanding, we fostered trust and empathy by exercising active listening and seeking to both understand and be understood, bringing us closer together.

Last night, I shared a spectacular red velvet waffle and fried chicken dish with a friend in Harlem, and I inadvertently shattered her entire conception of reality with what I thought to be a well-known fact: the “red” in red velvet is…red food coloring. I witnessed my dear friend pass through the five stages of grief as the reality of the situation set in.

Our perception of the world is utterly malleable, and this fact is exploited by everyone from chefs and copywriters to psychotherapists and social scientists. Few of us have the time or inclination to interrogate the assumptions we hold, and cultural memes can be powerful tools in the hands of savvy marketers.

Placebos can be delicious. Season to taste.